Normal erectile function depends on the release of NO and endothelial-dependent vasodilation of the penile arteries. The ‘artery size’ hypothesis, first described by Dr Montorsi, offers an explanation why men are more likely to develop ED before a myocardial infacrtion. It is believed that atherosclerosis affects all vascular beds equally but smaller arteries are more likely to become occluded than larger arteries.31 32 The penile arteries are 1–2 mm while the coronary arteries are 3–4 mm. Thus, the same degree of endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis is more likely to occlude blood flow in the penile arteries compared with the coronary arteries. The penile arteries therefore serve as a sensitive indicator for subsequent CVD. This theory is supported by the fact that ED occurs approximately 3 years prior to cardiac symptoms in virtually all patients with chronic coronary syndrome whereas patients with acute coronary syndrome have a much lower prevalence of sexual dysfunction.32
Stanley A Brosman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Urological Association, Society for Basic Urologic Research, Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of Urologic Oncology, Western Section of the American Urological Association, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Society of Urology, International Society of Urological Pathology
Diabetes is an example of an endocrine disease that can cause a person to experience impotence. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to utilize the hormone insulin. One of the side effects associated with chronic diabetes is nerve damage. This affects penis sensations. Other complications associated with diabetes are impaired blood flow and hormone levels. Both of these factors can contribute to impotence.
Melanocortin receptor agonists were found to induce erections serendipitously. A study investigating the dermatologic use of Melanotan-II (MT-II) was found to generate erections unexpectedly leading to the development of MTII derivatives for ED treatment (120). MT-II was initially used to induce pigment changes in the skin for artificial tanning but has been suspected to induce melanoma, however (121).
NO is produced by the enzyme NO synthase (NOS). [13] NOS plays many roles, ranging from homeostasis to immune system regulation. To date, 3 subtypes have been identified: nNOS, iNOS, and eNOS, which are produced by the genes NOS1, NOS2, and NOS3, respectively. This nomenclature is derived from the sources of the original isolates: neuronal tissue (nNOS), immunoactivated macrophage cell lines (iNOS), and vascular endothelium (eNOS). The subtypes are not, however, limited to the tissues from which they were first isolated.
Centrally active compounds such as apomorphine have been used in men with ED whose cardiovascular comorbidity may prohibit PDE5i use, or in men who have concurrent apomorphine use for its anti-parkinsonian properties. Unfortunately, its side effect profile and poor effectiveness compared to other ED treatments have impaired its mainstream utilization (118). It is suspected that the side effects of apomorphine relate to its D2 receptor affinity. D4 receptor agonists, such as ABT-724 and azulenylmethylpiperazines, may not have the same associated side effects and show potent pro-erectile effects in animal models compared to apomorphine (32,119).

Finally, gene therapy and stem cell research has widened the frontier of ED treatment proposed as possibility to even reverse ED. Specifically, gene therapy pertains to repairing the cause of ED by restoring defective gene function and/or altering the expression of the mutant gene (32). Most of the available data on gene therapy are in the animal model. However, a phase I clinical trial in men with ED undergoing intracavernous injection with a DNA plasmid carrying the alpha-subunit of the corporal smooth muscle Maxi-K channel showed promise in increased erectile function based on IIEF assessment sustained throughout the 3-month study period (122).


Several pre-treatment factors have been described that may indicate success with PDE5i therapy. The presence of an upper motor neuron lesion up to T12 suggests a successful response, as well as requirement for a lower dosage of medication (62,68-71). Additionally, the presence of residual erections after injury or an incomplete SCI (ASI-A vs. ASIB-D) also improve the chance of PDE5i treatment success (59,67,68,71).
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Induction of erection occurs after stimulation of the cavernous and pelvic nerve plexus. Conversely, stimulation of the sympathetic trunk leads to detumescence. The reflex erectile response requires that the sacral reflex arc remain intact. Tactile and sensory signals are received by the somatic sensory pathways and integrate with parasympathetic nuclei within the sacral spinal cord (S2-4) leading to induction of erection via cholinergic signaling. These reflexogenic erections remain intact with upper motor neuron injuries. Psychogenic erections do not require that the sacral reflex arc remain intact. In a cat models, spinal cord removal below L4/L5 led to absence of a reflexogenic erection but stimulation of the medial preoptic area (MPOA) or placement near a female cat in heat led to erection (5,6). Psychogenic erections occur via induction of central pathways traveling from the brain through the sympathetic chain. Non-penile sensory pathways induced by sight, sound, touch and smell travel through the MPOA to the erection centers within the cord T11-L2, and S2-S4 to induce erections (7). When a sacral lower motor neuron injury is present in men, below T12 these types of erections are more likely to occur (8). Spinal cord lesions above T9 are not associated with psychogenic erections (9). Rigidity of erections is less with psychogenic erections because the thoracolumbar sympathetic outflow may contain a decreased concentration of neurons compared to the parasympathetic outflow from the sacral spinal cord.

The main surgical treatment of ED involves insertion of a penile implant (also called penile prostheses). Because penile vascular surgery is not recommended for aging males who have failed oral PDE5 inhibitors, ICI or IU therapies, implants are the next step for these patients. Although placement of a penile implant is a surgery which carries risks, they have the highest rates of success and satisfaction among ED treatment options.
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